After yesterday’s shock win for Fiji over New Zealand and Lebanon pushing Tonga all the way to the final hooter, nerves would have been shredded in the England dressing room as they came up against a passionate and fanatically supported Papua New Guinea in the last quarter final.
PNG took an unbeaten record in the group stages to Melbourne along with a massive points difference bolstered by a 64-0 win over the USA last weekend.
England had Sam Burgess back in the line-up after two games out through injury and last weeks experiment of Gareth Widdop at full-back with Kevin Brown and Luke Gale in the halves was repeated by coach Wayne Bennett.
On five minutes Kato Ottio lost the ball over the England line, thanks to a well played disruptive hand in from Gareth Widdop, after taking a high kick, much to the relief of the Wall of White.
England opened the scoring on twelve minutes after a left to eight passing move saw Kallum Watkins put Jermaine McGillvary through a gap to go over from five metres out. Gareth Widdop was unable to add the conversion.
McGillvary got his second on nineteen after a brilliant Watkins pass through five PNG defenders to put his winger through in the clear to dive and score one-handed. Widdop again failed from the touchline.
On thirty-two Alex Walmsley battered his way to the line and managed to ground despite the attention of three PNG tacklers. It was a much simpler conversion for Widdop and he slotted this one between the uprights for 14-0.
PNG had a try turned down in the dying seconds of the half for a push, and a workmanlike performance sent England into the sheds with a comfortable, if not yet match winning, lead.
On fifty-five a delightful Widdop grubber kick was collected by Ben Currie twenty metres from the PNG line and the England substitute was able go twenty metres to score, rounding under the sticks and giving Widdop his second conversion of the afternoon.
Papua New Guinea got their opening try on the hour mark when Gary Lo was on the end of a cross-field passing move to go over in the left corner. Rhyse Martin kicked a superb touchline conversion for 20-6.
On sixty-seven McGillvary broke downfield off a Ryan Hall pass and found Watkins in support on the half way line who showed a clean pair of heels to go under the sticks for the fifth English try. Widdop added the conversion and England were into the semi-finals.
Watkins grabbed his second on seventy two when a Luke Gale kick to the corner was collected by McGillvary and offloaded to his winger to ground while airborne. Widdop was unable to add the extras.
Ryan Hall completed the try scoring proceedings taking a pass from Widdop to cross on the overlap as the PNG finally tired. Widdop converted from wide for a 36-6 victory.
It was all just a bit unconvincing. England survived the PNG test, not because they were the far better side, but because the Kumuls simply didn’t click on the day. England were never made to work too hard but coach Bennett will be concerned about the amount of unforced errors that his side made. England are off to Auckland for their semi final against the much fancied Tonga in what will be a more hostile atmosphere. Next week will need to be a more composed performance.
England: Widdop (4G), McGillvary (2T), Watkins (2T), Bateman, Hall (T), Brown, Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, S. Burgess, Whitehead, O'Loughlin. Subs: Walmsley (T), Currie (T), T. Burgess, Roby.
Papua New Guinea: Mead, Olam, Ottio, MacDonald, Lo (T), A. Boas, W. Boas, Meninga, Segayaro, Page, Martin (G), Minoga, Aiton. Subs: Baptiste, Amean. Albert, Griffin.
Referee: James Child.